What is the benefit of cordless tools?
April 20, 2016 10:51 AM   Subscribe

Assuming that I only use the tools around the house and already have extension cords is there some advantage to cordless tools that I'm missing?

I understand that batteries have gotten better so that they can hold a charge for longer and deliver more power but an equivalent corded tool (drill, saw, router, etc) will still be cheaper and not have me worrying about battery charge.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm to Home & Garden (43 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
One advantage I can think of right off the bat: they're safer and less hassle, because you don't have to worry about the cord moving around and potentially knocking over stuff while you're using the tool, which I could imagine being a problem if you're working on an active project with lots of raw materials around.
posted by un petit cadeau at 10:57 AM on April 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

Yes! Cordless tools are so much nicer to use than corded tools!

Cords get in the way of using the tool. They're easy to trip on. You NEVER have enough slack in your cord when you need it. It's always getting snagged on things. When you pull them to get some slack they get snagged on things or pull a box of nails off the bench. When you just want to walk out to the back fence to hang a bird feeder you don't need to use an extension cord. They fit into tight places. I could go on and on and on.

There are certain tools where you might need more power, like a hammer drill or a circular saw, so in those cases you can deal with a cord if you need to.

Seriously. If you spend any time at all using a drill or impact driver, you'll never want to use a corded one again.
posted by bondcliff at 10:57 AM on April 20, 2016 [8 favorites]

If you ask the clerk at Lowe's who advised my husband and I when we replaced our drill a couple of years ago: nope, unless you're using that tool just about every day, because otherwise the battery stops holding its charge after a couple of years and you have to replace it.

We bought a corded drill, which was cheaper anyway, and have had no problems.
posted by telophase at 10:57 AM on April 20, 2016 [9 favorites]

I second telophase. I have bought many cordless tools (drills in particular) and the batteries last for about 2-3 years, then it's hard to find the replacements batteries. At that point, you feel like you're renting these things. I figured that getting a decent extension cord helps.
posted by EastCoastBias at 11:08 AM on April 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

With drilling and screwing, I use two drivers with different bits. Switching back and forth between the two is a lot easier without cords. I do have a corded drill, however, and use it on masonry jobs.
posted by sixpack at 11:08 AM on April 20, 2016

Also, I wish I had a battery-operated hedge trimmer because I've cut the extension cord on that baby about a dozen times.
posted by sixpack at 11:10 AM on April 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Setup time can be more with corded tools, depending on how far you have to string the extension cord. It can be convenient to grab the cordless drill and go.

That said, my cordless circular saw is pretty useless. I get about one and a half cuts through a two-by-four before I have to recharge. It might've been a bit better when the batteries were new, but how long does that honeymoon period last? Then again, I bought it in 2012; maybe today's batteries are better?
posted by slidell at 11:12 AM on April 20, 2016

I work on sets in my theater, and finding enough extension cords to run cordless drills for everyone, plus enough outlets to plug into, would totally suck. Plus, we often work out in the parking lot, which would mean that we'd have to leave the doors to the theater open somewhat to keep the cords running to the outlets inside.

Corded tools are a huge hassle to use if you're moving with any regularity around something. They don't reach high, you catch the cords on corners, it pops out of the outlet all the time, the tines on the plug bend because you pulled on the cord.

Cordless tools are where it's at.
posted by xingcat at 11:12 AM on April 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

You will always get better power for a lower price with a corded power tool. Unless you need the mobility or have a bad track record of managing the cord, and you also have money to spend on a higher powered cordless tool and spare batteries, corded is a better decision. There are professional-grade cordless options that have good power and reasonable battery life, but you'll pay 2-4x as much to get that. The entry-level cordless stuff is garbage.
posted by quince at 11:15 AM on April 20, 2016 [7 favorites]

in addition to the convenience of not having a cord in the way, you can also use cordless tools when the power is off, which may be useful if you ever do (even minor) electrical work in your house.
posted by igowen at 11:15 AM on April 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

When I got my Dewalt cordless, I laid my old Sears corded drill on the floor under my bench (because the bench was covered with crap), and have not touched it in the last 15 years or so, except to kick it out of the way. The last time I was drilling and driving screws at the same time, it was still easier to change bits, because of the keyless chuck on the Dewalt, than to hook up the corded drill.

The main problem with the corded drill was the stiffness of the cord. I have a small Porter Cable power saw with a flexible cord, and the difference is dramatic.
posted by Bruce H. at 11:23 AM on April 20, 2016

I'm not sure they're the best thing for people who mostly do small tasks around their already-built and fully operational home, but if you're working on any kind of construction project without the benefit of an already there easy power source like a wall plug, it seems like kind of a no brainer.

When I was in an art collective, it was best to have cordless tools because stringing a million extension cords all over the place in our huge gallery space that only had so many outlets was a bitch.

In my experience doing set and art department type stuff on film projects, A) if you're in a soundstage, see above re a million extension cords everywhere -- in fact at that level it becomes actively unsafe -- or B) if you're out in the wild somewhere without easy access to a power source, there's nowhere to string an extension cord to. I mean maybe you have a generator, but can you imagine a crew of people with corded drills all trying to plug into a little generator that may not even be that near where you're working?

Not to mention getting into weird corners and needing to position your drill in odd ways. Maybe not such a big deal with a long extension cord in a house with 8-foot ceilings and reasonably orderly construction, but imagine that you're rigging something suspended from the ceiling, 15 feet in the air. Or you've just built an installation inside your gallery, so now you're on the roof of that structure, trying to get things put together just so, with umpteen feet of extension cord connecting you to a wall socket 10-20 yards away. Just, like, get a freakin' cordless drill already.
posted by Sara C. at 11:26 AM on April 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I hated my cordless drill. It was never powered when I needed it, and never seemed to have as much power as I wanted even when charged. It's true the cord on my corded one is a pain in the ass, but I love not having to worry about the charge.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:35 AM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

My dad is an avid tool user. He was always very anti-cordless until just a couple years ago when he got a cordless one for letting the kids in my mom's class use when he goes in to help out with Christmas gift building and the like. Much easier to co-drill around a classroom with small kids on a cordless drill than one plugged into a wall!

Also, he got a really pretty DeWalt one and made my mom take pictures of him posing with it to send to me and my brother so we could ooh and ahh. He talked about his new drill for like 2 whole weeks straight.

So it's great if you want to make your adult children roll their eyes.
posted by phunniemee at 11:39 AM on April 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Cordless drill shelf installation: after marking where to put drywall anchors, get drill, choose approprite bit, install bit. If battery runs out, swap out other battery, charge first battery. Drill hole, install anchors

Corded drill shelf installation: after marking where to put drywall anchors, get drill, choose approprite bit, install bit. Find electrical outlet. If furniture in the way, move furniture; otherwise, find extension cord, untangle extension cord, plug into wall, plug drill into cord. Drill hole, install anchors. Unplug cord from extension cord and put cord away, or move furniture back into position, or both.
Also: cords are often tripping hazards.

OTOH, there's the chemical/environmental impact of the old batteries to consider.

Also, I have run into several situations where my cordless drill just isn't powerful enough.

I have had the same Makita cordless multi-torque drill for decades, and it has been awesome; I've had to replace the batteries twice in all that time. As I said, there have been a couple of times when it wasn't quite powerful enough, but if you're not screwing oak planks into logs, or building furniture, or deconstructing old theater sets for hours on end, you might not need that much power.
posted by amtho at 11:40 AM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you use a top brand cordless system (DeWalt, Milwaukee, etc.), you shouldn't have problems getting replacement batteries down the road. And the technology has gotten a LOT better in the past few years, so for those of you saying they're underpowered and never charged, it might be worth taking another look. I have a bunch of Milwaukee M12 stuff, and it's awesome. Plenty of power for what I do around the house, and the batteries hold their charge for MONTHS even if I'm not using them. Since switching to this system, I have literally eliminated the situation of needing the tool and having to charge it for an hour before I can get started. It's always ready to go.
posted by primethyme at 11:41 AM on April 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you regularly use cordless drills for small amounts of time in varied environments they can be awesome. You pick up the drill (because you have it close and convenient in your kit bag), you unscrew / screw something, and put it back in your case. It'll be 5-10x faster than manually unscrewing it. If instead you need to grab the extension cord (because how often are you really 6-8 feet from an outlet), unwind enough to get to the nearest outlet, then walk back to the drill, and drill, you've likely taken 2x the time it would be to just screw/unscrew something. Worse, there might not be a convenient environment. Or there could be enough people moving around such that a cord is an active safety hazard. Adding insult to injury, you now need to wind up the cord properly so it doesn't not; you're at 4x the time to just use a screwdriver. At work, if I'm installing stuff that needs screws I like it if I have a cordless driver. While I don't use the tools often, the main user does meaning the spare battery is always charged and we never do enough on any one day that 1 full battery would never be enough.

At my home; this would never be useful. I don't want to worry about batteries (if they're left in the garage, the heat kills them fast), both whether they are currently charged, and if their useful lifespan isn't over. For the most part if I'm doing a project, my cordless drill wouldn't be as conveniently close as a screw driver would. So for 1-4 screws, I'll use a screw driver. For anything more, it's already a project so I need to hit the garage, grab the drill, and all of my bits. So I can grab the cord for free. Handling the cord when I'm already in "a project" adds less of a percentage of time because we're not talking about something quick. Add in that I 100% won't need to switch batteries even if I'm putting in 240+ screws into a mini deck extension, and I won't need to wait for a battery to charge because my spare battery was dead and it's a win.

At my last house the owners left us some battery powered set of tools, and because the batteries would die in the garage, and the tools were underpowered even with a full battery, we ended up replacing any of the tools we used (we didn't touch the leaf blower) with corded versions within 3 years.

So there are some specialized situations where a cordless version is more useful, but realistically, I think less often than many people think.

And yet, as I say this, for some reason whenever I look at tools, I'm drawn to the cordless version. And I think, "Well, since I don't need this a lot, maybe I could go with the cordless." And then Ms. nobeagle reminds me about my rants of cordless versions and how I repeatedly state that generally they're not worth it, and actively worse because of the batteries. And I remember how right she is while wondering how/why I have the draw towards cordless.

That same draw I feel is probably why a lot of people end up buying cordless when they shouldn't. And why there are so many cordless versions.
posted by nobeagle at 11:42 AM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

The real comparison depends on how much you want to spend, really. Buck for buck, yeah, your corded drill is going to perform a bit better. Low rent cordless drills are torture to use. I had an old Ryobi drill that was the worst and I'd just break out my old corded drill most of the time.

Nice ones however, are...sweet jesus... completely worth it. The batteries are much better in every respect, the chargers charge faster (my Milwaukee charger fully charges a battery in less than 30 minutes...so...not really a hassle), and the batteries don't lose their charge over months of non-use. I would say this issue has largely been figured out with the move to Li-ion batteries.

If you're only using it for a couple tasks around the house, yeah, sure, go corded...but if you're building anything larger than a raised bed, I personally would never go back to corded.
posted by furnace.heart at 11:46 AM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've had a DeWalt cordless drill for 8 or 9 years. I don't use it every day, but I use it pretty frequently. My two batteries both failed just recently, and I had no trouble at all finding a (higher capacity, newer technology) replacement from the original manufacturer at a reasonable cost.

You can also get old battery packs serviced. Often it's just one cell that's gone bad and it can be replaced at a lower cost than replacing the whole battery pack, which also results in fewer battery chemicals making it into landfills.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 11:47 AM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

For a short period of time, my father had an electric lawnmower.... we had a small yard, so he didn't even need an extension cord to reach everything.

I say a short period of time: third time he used it, he ran over the cord and chopped it to bits. (When he stopped swearing, he called a lawn service.)
posted by easily confused at 11:50 AM on April 20, 2016

if half of americans don't have $400 for an emergency then the extra cost of cordless power tools seems like a luxury most don't need. i certainly manage with corded tools for small repairs and occasional furniture making.
posted by andrewcooke at 11:53 AM on April 20, 2016

This is a safety thing mostly. Cords eat concentration. All the other stuff, slack, length, not knocking over stuff etc. can be solved with good preparation in most situations.

But the inevitable my-cord-has-its-own-mind-distractedness close to your churning or chomping tool and in direct vicinity to your working area uses up precious brainpower that you might need instead for reacting when your tool or workpiece start doing silly things.

That said, especially a cordless drill/screw-thingy is also very convenient. Imagine having to to dozens of screws for a porch roof rebuild. You're climbing around up there, trying to reach across and to get screws in at impossible angles with an outstretched arm. Not great with a cordless screwdriver, but doable. Absolutely nightmarish if you also have to worry about cord-coreography...
posted by Namlit at 12:01 PM on April 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

EastCoastBias: " I have bought many cordless tools (drills in particular) and the batteries last for about 2-3 years, then it's hard to find the replacements batteries."

The major makes have all standardized on a battery interface and voltages (each their own of course); replacements are readily available.
posted by Mitheral at 12:15 PM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm kind of surprised at the anti-cordless crowd here. FWIW, I have a cordless Makita drill/driver and an impact driver.
  • Neither one cost more than about $100.00
  • They have never lacked power for anything and I am a homeowner who is "handy around the house" and use them at least once a week, sometimes for hours on end.
  • The batteries have lasted years. A replacement every few years is maybe $30-$40.
  • The batteries are standard so I can't imagine not being able to find a battery for the next decade or so.
  • They never lose their charge while they're dormant
  • The batteries take 20 minutes to charge, max.
  • I have two batteries so I am never without a charged battery
  • The batteries last hours with near-constant use.
  • I can use my impact driver to drive bolts, like I'm in an Indy pit crew, and it gets them as tight as I can get them with a wrench
  • If I need to screw or drill a thing, I can grab my tool, drill the thing, and put the tool away. No need to wrap/unwrap a cord. Corded tools turn simple tasks into projects.
  • I can walk all around my shop, or around the house, or the yard, without constantly re-positioning a cord.
It may be one of those cases where people tried cordless drills 10 years ago and never went back to them. 10 years ago I had a shitty drill too. But the technology has come a long way and for regular household use I can't think of any reason to buy a corded drill or driver.
posted by bondcliff at 12:17 PM on April 20, 2016 [9 favorites]

They're much easier to use outside. Extending an electrical cord outside if you don't have an outside plug is really annoying. My husband puts things together and takes things apart on our porch all the time.
posted by zizzle at 12:26 PM on April 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's hard to appreciate how much more convenient cordless power tools are until you've used them.

I have a nice corded drill, which I've had for years. But after buying a house a couple years ago, I knew I would have a lot of renovation ahead of me. I saw a Woot deal for a cordless drill with a charger and two batteries. It was definitely not "top of the line" but it was only about $40. I use it constantly! I've remodeled my kitchen, built cabinets, hung lights, and just about any other remodeling task you can think of. It's easy to keep one battery on the charger, so I just swap as needed.

The main advantage to me is not the time it takes to plug it in, but avoiding the hassle of "cord management." A corded drill pretty much always needs an extension cord, and it would get caught on things, or create a tripping hazard. Going cordless was so much nicer.

Having said that... there are still occasions where I have use the corded drill. As I said, my cordless is a lower end model, and I sometimes need more torque than it can provide. So I keep my corded drill around if needed. But I would say easily 99% of all my work is done with the cordless.
posted by The Deej at 12:27 PM on April 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

I went through 2 generations of NiCad-powered cordless drills and had many of the same complaints as the nay-sayers here: batteries quickly lost their ability to take and hold a charge, and surprisingly quickly became obsolete, so replacements weren't readily available. But I stuck with them because for certain jobs a cordless was so much more convenient. A few years ago I bought a new drill with Lithium-Ion batteries, and have had no complaints ever since: much better battery life, much better shelf life, more power.

All that said, a decent corded drill is 1/2 the price, much more powerful, and will last much longer. (I don't consider 10 years very long in the lifetime of a tool: I've had my table saw for 25 years and some of my favorite hand tools were bought by my father in the '50s)
posted by mr vino at 12:29 PM on April 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Something that hasn't been mentioned yet: You have to be a lot more careful with corded tools. They have more torque and overall power, and you can get into trouble a lot faster--either enough to break your wrist or ruin the screw you are trying to screw in, damage product, etc.

This is one reason you will never see professional deck builders using corded drills--too many torque-related injuries. Instead, they use cordless and have four batteries hanging off their belt. At least that is what professional deck builders have told me when they would come into the store for parts where I once worked.

I, personally, can't stand cordless tools. I know where all my outlets are, having extension cords by my tools, etc. I don't see any inconvenience. But I never run the corded tools full power unless I need to, I know the risks, etc.
posted by TinWhistle at 12:30 PM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

My husband loves his cordless Bosch impact driver so much that he has bought several as gifts just to spread the joy.

He's a realtor, and often finds himself doing small things like assembling signs, or doing minor repairs at a home where there may not be any obvious outlets outside, or where he doesn't want to move the homeowner's furniture. The little impact driver kit lives in his trunk, and is always available.
posted by antimony at 12:31 PM on April 20, 2016

Not all cordless tools are created equal in that some devices are going to drain power faster than others, and the cheaper or entry level models/brands might not work as well as the corded alternatives at the same cost.

A cordless drill is an excellent thing to have, in my opinion. You can just grab it and do quick jobs (mounting things to your walls, removing screws from things you want to disassemble) without hunting around for the outlet or extension cable, then putting everything away when you're done. If you're doing a large job, like securing plywood along an entire wall or floor, you can do so without the possibility of accidentally yanking the power cord out of the wall or tripping over it.

Anecdotally, I had contractors build a new garage last year and while tools that required more power or were used in one spot (nail gun or saw) were corded, they used zero corded drills.
posted by mikeh at 12:47 PM on April 20, 2016

One other thought: for quick screwing/unscrewing, a ratcheting screwdriver is _awesome_. No batteries, no power, but much much easier on the hands than the usual screwdriver motion. We finally got one after _years_ of thinking about it and it's wonderful.

Also, it came with about 20 bits, many of which are pretty obscure: star bits of various sizes, some allen-wrench type bits which made disassembling a desk about 100x easier than it had been before.

Ratchet! Like this.

Then, you could theoretically use the ratcheting screwdriver for light duty fastening, and a corded (or other) drill for heaver work.
posted by amtho at 1:05 PM on April 20, 2016

TinWhistle: "Something that hasn't been mentioned yet: You have to be a lot more careful with corded tools. They have more torque and overall power, and you can get into trouble a lot faster--either enough to break your wrist or ruin the screw you are trying to screw in, damage product, etc."

Be careful with this; some of the newer high powered battery stuff is just as powerful as the corded. They aren't quite hole hawgs (except Milwaukee makes a cordless Hole Hawg now) but they'll easily knock you off a ladder or bust your nose if they get hung up.
posted by Mitheral at 1:22 PM on April 20, 2016

For a tool that uses little power, like a drill/driver, I would go cordless. For one that uses a lot of power, like a circular saw, I could go either way.

But I would add something about tools in general. There are lots of cheap tools that can't do the job, or can't do it well. I have had a circular saw for maybe 30 years. It was cheap. It's hard to make a precise cut with it. It would probably die halfway through a saw+intensive job like building a deck. No pro would want it, but it's been fine for ten or twenty times I've wanted a saw. Don't expect a cheap tool to be as good as an expensive one. It's not just a matter of longevity, it's a matter of how well it works, too.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:36 PM on April 20, 2016

I have both. We use the corded tools when we've got a major project going on (during our kitchen remodel we used both) but in between projects it's basically all cordless. Except for those times when you just need to unfasten something and you go get the drill and the battery is mysteriously not charged. It's nice to have a corded version handy.
posted by aimedwander at 1:39 PM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

With a cordless tool, you just have to find the tool and start using it. With a cord, you have to find an extension cord and an outlet and put everything together. Then the cord on the end of the drill sticks out and you can't get it into the cabinet you are working on at the right angle you need.
posted by SLC Mom at 3:39 PM on April 20, 2016

I have accrued a bunch of cordless tools that all use the same rechargeable batteries for which there is one charger. Incremental tools are cheap since I can buy "bare tools" that come with no battery. I can use the cordless sawzall to cut a small branch off a tree in the yard without stringing a giant cable. I can use a cordless circular saw without accidentally cutting through the cable. Overall it's a much better situation than when I had a bag of corded tools with their cables all tangled together.
posted by w0mbat at 4:04 PM on April 20, 2016

Assuming that I only use the tools around the house and already have extension cords

You will get much better tools per buck going corded, but I would add a good cordless drill/screwdriver with the flashlight attachment to the mix, they are very handy. Both my drills cost about the same, I use the cordless more often but put more hours on the corded one.
posted by ridgerunner at 5:10 PM on April 20, 2016

I had to drill a couple holes in a thick stainless steep plate with an old black and decker, took about eight recharging cycles. But it was on a sailboat an I really couldn't scare up 2000 ft extension cord that'd reach out to the mooring. :-)

Each have their place, I have an old corded drill that is handy sometimes. Hit the flea market and get one of each for cheap.

A battery saw makes a lot less sense, but there are bundled sets that go on sale that could be fine for occasional use.
posted by sammyo at 5:47 PM on April 20, 2016

A corded drill/driver weighs less than one with batteries, so I can use it longer without getting fatigued.

For driving a bunch of screws into pre drilled holes when putting together furniture or whatever, I have a ratcheting screwdriver, and also a tiny battery powered screwdriver. I use those about equally.
posted by mgar at 6:12 PM on April 20, 2016

Something I haven't seen mentioned yet: better battery tech.

Newer cordless tools have gone to Lithium Ion (Li-on or sometimes listed as Lithium Polymer - LiPo) batteries - aka. the same kind that are in your computer, cell phone, etc. which do not have the memory or charge loss problems of NiCad or NiMH batteries. They should have a longer functional life as a result.
posted by namewithoutwords at 6:46 PM on April 20, 2016

I like my small cordless drill/driver, because I can just sling it in my tool tote thing. When there's a job to do it's easy to bring the one tool bag to the spot, have everything I need and just get it done. This significantly increases the odds of me actually doing any of the tiny odd jobs that tend to just go ignored.
posted by emilyw at 2:57 AM on April 21, 2016

The batteries in cordless appliances and electronics are full of toxic heavy metals. Please, please recycle them. Lowe's and Home Depot have recycling boxes. The toxicity of the batteries argues against cordless tools.

I love having a cordless drill/ driver because if I have to get out the extension cord and fiddle around I am less likely to do the small task.
posted by theora55 at 8:23 AM on April 21, 2016

The batteries in cordless appliances and electronics are full of toxic heavy metals.

Thanks for pointing this out. Even Lithium-Ion batteries, which don't use heavy metals, can have toxic-halogens in the electrolyte and should be recycled.
posted by w0mbat at 1:38 PM on April 21, 2016

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